Love in the Time of War: Ukrainian Students Share Their Stories

Author: Katherine Holtz


The first line of the Ukrainian national anthem, junior and president of the Notre Dame Ukrainian Society Maryna Chuma said, is “Ukraine has not died yet.”

“It’s in our blood to stand for Ukraine, fight for Ukraine,” she said. 

It has been over a month since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. While the war stretches on, Ukrainian students at Notre Dame regularly check the news, reach out to loved ones they can get ahold of and advocate against the war through social media or action on campus. 

“Culturally... we’re very action-oriented people, Ukrainians in general. I know in the media, we’re getting praised for how strong we’ve been. It’s literally how we’re built. So we’re fighting,” Chuma said. 

Ukraine’s national anthem is a testament to that sentiment. The Russo-Ukrainian war may appear to be a new conflict to individuals who do not follow the news, but it finds its roots in history during the Soviet period. When Ukraine fought and became an independent and established country, tensions were still present between the two countries. “We have a long history of oppression,” she said. 

First-year Marko Gural, also involved in Ukrainian Society, highlights Ukranians’ ability to fight for themselves and their country. “We’ve gone through so many events that have made me proud of my heritage. We’ve fundraised thousands to help refugees, held masses, protests and prayer services.”

Chuma didn’t create the Ukrainian Society, but she says that after the club was left without an executive board in 2017, four of her friends — including her brother — revived the club. She wrote in her college admissions essay that she was going to start the club again if Notre Dame admitted her.

“I am glad to have this support system of the Ukrainian society,” she said. “I’d never thought that there’d be pictures of me on The Observer and ND Women Connect posted me on LinkedIn. I’ve had random alumni and professors reach out to me saying they’re here to support me, and I never thought I would lead a demonstration on campus.” 

The Ukrainian Society serves as a supportive space amid the war — an enclave of Ukrainians finding comfort in each other — but with that comes exhaustion and numbness. Father Jenkins’ statement, other students and many professors were particularly supportive of Ukraine, Gural said. But the on-campus climate has changed now that it’s been over a month after the invasion and amid recent atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine. “I think I find it easier to talk to other Ukrainians, or not at all, and just keep my emotions within myself. Already, it seems as if the conflict is being slowly forgotten about,” he said. 

“Look out for your peers who are students [and] who are Ukrainian because it’s a different level of hurt that we have or that we’re experiencing,” Chuma said. “You need to start spreading the word because the silence feels like you’re supporting the people killing innocent civilians.”

On the other hand, sophomore Dasha Kudriavtseva was born in Moscow, Russia. Her father is from Russia, and her mother is from Ukraine. She’s visited her mother, two sisters, grandparents, cousins and aunts in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, in past years while exploring more of her Ukrainian identity. During the invasion, some of her family fled to neighboring countries. 

Now, she doesn’t know when they’ll be able to return. 

When her family escaped near the Polish border, a normally eight-to nine-hour drive turned into a 30-hour journey, Kudriavtseva said. Yet everyone was respectful, helpful and united even when traffic filled the roads.

“I think [my mother] mentioned that there was only one car accident that happened on the road, and people went outside deciding who was at fault. He was like, ‘Okay, here’s the money,’ they hugged, walked back and kept on driving,” she said. 

The first weeks were the hardest emotionally, Kudriavtseva said. But her family is now safe in Belgium, although the future is uncertain on where they will settle. 

Kudriavtseva echoed sentiments similar to Chuma and Gural regarding the on-campus climate: “When people are not related to the situation, it changes their view on the situation or their interests completely. And I’m sure that may happen over time, because this is going to stay in the history forever. People are going to hopefully get more curious about it and learn more” 

People have their own lives, she says, yet should be aware of the war’s severity, especially after recent killings in Bucha. 

On the other side of war and exhaustion comes a deeply embedded love for Ukraine, its people and the community. Gural described his favorite thing about Ukraine in one simple and all-encompassing word: “Love.”

One of Kudriavtseva’s favorite things about Ukraine is the language. She said she’s still trying to become fluent, as she grew up hearing Ukrainian and knowing the basics. Ukrainian music also connects her to her culture.

“Ukrainian is a lot more melodic than Russian and just soothing and nice,” she said. “[The] music makes me feel a certain way.”

Chuma also chose a single term to describe Ukraine: unity.

“I think [unity] comes into play in terms of our history of really challenging historical times and how, through the unity, we are able to overcome that, and we’re going to celebrate that we did, and that’s what’s going to happen again this time, unfortunately, at the expense of thousands of people’s lives.”

There have been special events hosted by various organizations and departments at Notre Dame. Academic panels hosted by the Nanovic Institution for European Studies focused on researchers spreading awareness about the war, while Irish Gardens and Ukrainian Society’s partnered “Sunflowers for Ukraine” event raises money to donate to humanitarian support for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The “Word of Life” mural on Hesburgh Library will light up with the Ukrainian flag’s yellow and blue every weekend until the end of the invasion. 

“We’re exhausted and we’re not going to stop until I feel that every single person on this campus knows,” Chuma said.